Lionel Messi scores to lead Argentina over Chile

Lionel Messi scored again in Argentina's 2-1 victory on Tuesday over Chile, which kept the favourites atop the standings South America's World Cup qualifying.

Uruguay has work to do come March after La Paz loss

Argentina's Lionel Messi gestures to fans at the end of a World Cup qualifying soccer match against in Santiago. (Eduardo Di Baia/Associated Press)

— Lionel Messi scored again in Argentina's 2-1 victory on Tuesday over Chile, which kept the favourites atop the standings in South America's World Cup qualifying.

Messi has scored three goals over two games in four days, which has yielded six key points for Argentina.

In other qualifying matches on Tuesday, Ecuador drew 1-1 with Venezuela, Paraguay defeated Peru 1-0, and Bolivia beat Uruguay 4-1.

Argentina has 20 points atop the standings, three ahead of Ecuador and four up on Colombia. Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela have 12 each, with the top four to qualify for the World Cup and the fifth team to face a further playoff.

Peru and Bolivia have eight and Paraguay has seven.

"It was a good couple of days for us," Messi said. "Six points against difficult teams like Uruguay and Chile. But when this resumes in March, it will be just as difficult. But obviously six points help us relax."

Messi has 31 goals for Argentina, two behind Diego Maradona on Argentina's career scoring list. Gabriel Batistuta leads the all-time list with 54.

The Barcelona star has 12 goals in eight games this year for Argentina, the main reason that the South Americans are looking as one of early favourites to win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

South American qualifiers resume on March 22, when the fixtures will be: Argentina vs. Venezuela, Uruguay vs. Paraguay, Peru vs. Chile, and Colombia vs. Bolivia. Ecuador will sit out the next round.

In the match in Santiago, Chile, Messi scored in the 28th and Higuain added another in the 31st. Felipe Gutierrez scored for Chile in second-half stoppage time.

Messi took a perfect through-ball from Fernando Gago and then slotted the ball home from 12 metres.

Higuain doubled the lead when he broke down the right flank, cut inside and hit a left-footed shot into the net. Sergio Aguero hit the post in the 44th and Angel Di Maria came close in first-half stoppage time.

In Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, Segundo Castillo scored in the 24th minute to help Ecuador secure a hard-earned 1-1 draw with Venezuela.

Juan Arango opened the scoring in the sixth minute for Venezuela.

The draw provided a valuable point for Ecuador, which improved to 17 points. Venezuela, which has 12 points from nine games, is the only team in the South American confederation that has never qualified for the World Cup finals.

In Asuncion, Paraguay, defender Pablo Aguilar scored early to give Paraguay a 1-0 victory over Peru. Aguilar scored from a centring pass from Julio Dos Santos in the 52nd minute.

In La Paz, Bolivia, the local team took advantage of the thin air in La Paz to beat Uruguay 4-1.

Carlos Saucedo scored in the fifth, 51st and 55th minutes and Gualberto Mujica added the other in the 26th. Luis Suarez scored in the 81st for Uruguay.

"Bolivia did well, taking advantage of the two goals in the first half," Uruguay coach Oscar Tavarez said. "We're not dead, but we need to fix things. We have no cushion now and we'll have to fight it out. We'll get out of this tough spot."

Uruguay is not looking like the team that won last year's South American championship, nor the club that finished fourth in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Like many teams which travel to play at 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) in La Paz, Uruguay looked fatigued and never got into the match.